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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Cayetano likely low-key in last State of State speech

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Leaf through the pages of campaign literature from Gov. Ben Cayetano's past two elections and you trace the path that he meant to travel, but couldn't.

Governor's speech
 •  Here online
Join us at 10 a.m. today as Gov. Ben Cayetano delivers his final State of the State and lays out his administration's legacy. Streaming video courtesy KHNL News 8.
 •  On TV
Gov. Ben Cayetano's State of the State address will be broadcast live at 10 a.m. on TV stations KGMB, KHNL, KHON and KITV.
In 1994, he promised to push for a state financing system for nursing home care, and was determined to resolve the controversies over ceded lands. He wanted to use a portion of the money collected through gasoline taxes to pay for environmental protection programs.

Four years later, he pledged to make Hawai'i "the premier education center of the Pacific," to press ahead with the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu campus and build a "world-class aquarium."

None of that happened.

Much of what Cayetano had in mind was stalled by political opposition, budget shortfalls and a weak state economy throughout the 1990s. Now, at the outset of his final, "lame-duck" session at the state Legislature, it is too late for most of the governor's grand plans.

When Cayetano gives his eighth and final State of the State address this morning in the House chamber of the State Capitol, he likely will offer a modest agenda. He is expected to devote a good deal of time highlighting the accomplishments of his administration, and thanking staff and colleagues for their contributions.

Cayetano has said he is most proud of the pace of school construction during his administration, saying he has built more new schools than any other governor.

He notes that he dramatically increased spending for students with mental disabilities, which was required under by a federal court. He also claims progress in negotiations with public employees, for example awarding sizeable raises to teachers in exchange for more days of classroom instruction.

But with a budget shortfall of more than $300 million to cope with this year, Cayetano is again planning to make budget cuts, and has little money to spend on new government programs.

The governor has taken to musing about the new directions that Democrats have taken in recent years, and he is expected to get philosophical today in his speech. Specifically, Cayetano is skeptical of city efforts to condemn small landowners' property in Waikiki to sell it to the owners of the Outrigger Enterprises for a hotel redevelopment.

In that case, Democrats in city government are advancing a plan to "take land from the little guy and give it to the big guy," Cayetano said. He compared the proposed Outrigger condemnation with the land reform movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when the state condemned land held by large landowners so the property could be distributed to individual leaseholders.

"I think that we will have some interesting things to say about government, about how I think that we need to be concerned that government does not go too far in one direction," Cayetano told reporters last week.

One area where Cayetano will make an ambitious pitch is in construction spending. He will ask for permission to borrow and spend more than $900 million on state construction projects, including $142 million for the new UH-West O'ahu campus. Cayetano said the extra construction spending is needed to boost the state's building industry.

Cayetano calls this "the centerpiece of our economic stimulus package" because it is the only proposal that would immediately create significant numbers of new jobs.

Lawmakers said they are open to spending more on school construction, repairs and maintenance, but said the request for the $900 million construction budget will probably fail. House Speaker Calvin Say said he wants to be sure the state isn't saddled with enormous debt payments after Cayetano leaves office.

"He's not going to be here to pay the piper," said Say, D-18th (Palolo, St. Louis, Kaimuki). "When we're scrambling to cut services, to go fund (construction) projects, it doesn't make sense.

For that matter, Say contends that it is illogical for Cayetano to prod lawmakers into approving any long-term initiatives now. Cayetano is leaving office in 10 months. Who will press ahead with Cayetano's proposals afterward?

"I know I'm not going to," Say said. "I know nobody in the new administration will, because they have to come up with their own new agenda of what they campaigned on." According to Say, "legacy" is something governors need to accomplish in their first term.

But outgoing governors still try to make a big, final impact.

In his last State of the State address in 1994, former Gov. John Waihe'e proposed the state adopt a system of public financing of political campaigns; create a new cabinet-level Department of the Environment; and surrender to the state Board of Education all authority over state income taxes so the public school system could control its own source of money. He also proposed increasing the state excise tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent as part of an effort to salvage O'ahu's proposed mass transit project.

None of those initiatives went anywhere.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.